New Year’s Eve, Grand Bahama Island

It’s been a long, hard year for us all.  Time for a cocktail, some relaxation, and the tough mental and physical preparation for whatever New Year’s Eve celebration you may grace as 2011 draws to a close and we ring in the New Year.

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The President’s Curious, Overcooked Metaphors

Although he has a reputation as a fine public speaker, President Obama often struggles to make his point and move on.  At times, he seems to get trapped within expanding metaphors, fighting without success to make his way out.

I first noticed this after he was elected, when he sought to explain why he wouldn’t follow Republican economic advice.  His simple point was:  they’ve just driven the car into the ditch, and now they want the keys back.  By the time he was done, however, the Republicans were sipping on Slurpees, the President and Democrats were mud-splattered and down in the ditch, and the illustration had become so weird and leaden you were rolling your eyes.

The same problem arose during the interview of the President on 60 Minutes.  When asked about unemployment, he gave a long response that included this statement:

“And, you know, sometimes when I’m talking to my team, I describe us as, you know, I’m the captain and they’re the crew on a ship, going through really bad storms. And no matter how well we’re steering the ship, if the boat’s rocking back and forth and people are getting sick and, you know, they’re being buffeted by the winds and the rain and, you know, at a certain point, if you’re asking, “Are you enjoying the ride right now?” Folks are gonna say, “No.” And [if you] say, “Do you think the captain’s doing a good job?” People are gonna say, “You know what? A good captain would have had us in some smooth waters and sunny skies, at this point.” And I don’t control the weather. What I can control are the policies we’re putting in place to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Odd  to hear the President depict Americans as seasick passengers on a ship, isn’t it?  And his simple point, that passengers won’t enjoy a ride through rough waters, even when the captain is doing the best job possible, also morphs into the whiny refrain that the President doesn’t control the economic “weather”– even though Presidents happily take credit when skies are sunny.

Ship metaphors are hackneyed and dangerous, because lots of bad things can happen on sea voyages — things like mutinies, shark attacks, being shanghaied, forcing people to walk the plank, and having to deal with evil, crazed, or obsessed captains like Captain Bligh, Captain Queeg, and Captain Ahab.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the President’s ill-considered sea captain answer makes its way into a Republican commercial when the general election finally arrives in 2012.

Elemental

Every now and then, scientists smash atoms together and discover a new element.  The new elements then go through an accreditation process before they become part of the periodic table that is grimly familiar to everyone who hated having to memorize the elements in their high school chemistry class.

The problems really arise, however, when the time comes to name the new elements.  The sad fact is, scientists suck at coming up with good names.  The latest two proposed names, for example, are Flerovium and Livermorium.  Basically, scientists just take the name of a person or place, add “ium” at the end, and that’s it.

That uninspired convention was used for most of the recent additions to the periodic table.  The boring names for newer elements — Ytterbium?  Lutetium?  Mendelevium? — stand in sharp contrast to the pithy, lyrical names of the older elements, like gold, silver, tin, and mercury.  No one is going to write a song called “Heart of Ytterbium” or pen a holiday standard called “Mendelevium Bells.”  It must be maddening for high school kids to try to pronounce, much less remember, all of these “iums.”

The new names are not only hopelessly unmemorable, they don’t tell you anything about the element itself.  The name “lead” connotes the heaviness of that ponderous metal.  In that regard, “Livermorium” is a missed opportunity.  That substance is formed by smashing calcium ions into the element curium and quickly decays into Flerovium.  How about a name that reflects the element’s short life — like Ephemerite?

I hereby offer to help the scientific community in developing better names — and thereby advance the cause of beleaguered high school chemistry students everywhere.

The High Cost Of Sports Stardom

The New York Times has an interesting article about a number of lawsuits filed by former players against the National Football League and helmet manufacturers.

The lawsuits deal with whether the NFL knew, or should have known, about the effects of repeated blows to the head on athletes.  The article quotes one of the lawyers for the players as arguing that the consequences of multiple concussions — including dementia, disorientation, memory loss, and anger control issues — were well documented.  Counsel for the NFL responds that the League makes player safety a priority and has never misled players.

I never played competitive football, and I can’t imagine what it would be like to have one concussion, much less several.  And if you know anyone who played high-level football, you’ve likely seen the general bodily wear and tear the game imposes — from gimpy walks to scarred legs to gnarled, misshapen fingers.  Regardless of the outcome, the lawsuits should remind everyone that those crushing hits that we cheer on Sundays come at a cost for the human beings inside the uniforms.